Delighted to say that I'll be performing over at iO West tonight on this fine Buzzy Nights program.
I'm an optimist. That's why I throw money down the Kickstarter hole and hope for the best. But there are a lot of duds that come back too, and today I think we're going to be talking about a bunch of them.
- The Devastator - This is a quarterly (?) magazine / book / comedy publication of some sort, to which some of my comedy friends sometimes contribute. Perhaps like McSweeney's, I love for this to exist, but I don't know if I love to actually read it. And being a submissions editor for The Higgs Weldon for about 2 years has left me super critical and suspicious of attempted literary humor. The project netted me a print edition of their first issue. I think they ran the project well, and the aforementioned is mainly my own weird baggage.
- Second Quest - An adventure story inspired by The Legend of Zelda. I only backed at the digital level. The printed book was too expensive for me at the time. Either way, the project is 1 year past its estimated delivery and has yet to be completed. I'm sure it's going just great though!
- The Tomorrow Girl - Similar to most of my music category, I backed this even though I'd never read this comic, but I liked the creator's blog, and wanted to support his general deal. A bunch of stretch goal stuff I wasn't really expecting came with it. The book looks nice. 👍
- The Magazine: The Book - I heard about this a lot because of the kind of people I read on the Internet. A low-level pledge was cheaper than a year's subscription, so I gave it a shot. I don't really know anything about how their book turned out.
- Island of Ignorance and Tales from the Crescent City - two books of adventures and content for the Call of Cthulhu RPG by Golden Goblin Press, a third party publisher. Reading these before playing them kind of spoils the fun, but they seem cool on casual browsing. Both books have been delivered, but of course, the base game hasn't… I'll be skipping their next project. Stockpiling these is kind of assuming a lot about a potential gaming group. Speaking of which, anyone want to join a Call of Cthulhu club? Couple sessions a month? I think it sounds really neat.
- Littlest Lovecraft - The Dunwich Horror - Reading Lovecraftian horror to children is the sort of thing I would think is funny. I ordered this book and threw in their last one. The project appears to be on time, but has yet to be completed.
Both of our first two categories today are great subjects for Kickstarter, since what we're backing is mainly the creation of physical goods. It's only Second Quest, the project kickstarted from merely an idea, that's horribly behind. It's the exception to the categorical rule to match with FTL from last week, a game that was just about done before going public for cash.
- The Glif - This is a little kickstand for an iPhone 4 that also adds a tripod mount. I liked it so much I bought another one for my iPhone 5. 👍
- The Hexbright - A super bright flashlight, rechargable via USB, and featuring a reprogrammable interface. I played with the programming features for a day or two and there wasn't much going on with it at the time. However, as a super bright flashlight, it's great, and I carry it in my laptop bag or whenever I'm on set. 👍
- The Packlight - A series of 45 LEDs in a bendy rubber thing with magnets on. This seemed like it would be a handy indie film production thing, but instead it kind of sucks. The first one arrived with the USB charging connector rattling around inside. The replacement seems to be impossible to charge. Maybe if I cut them open I could find some way to power them up, but as delivered it's been a big let down. 👎
- The Tilt - This is a base for a Mac Book Pro. The MBP I had at the time ran extremely hot, so this device puts a layer between you and it, adds a USB-powered fan for cooling, and also there's a tripod mount. The first one I received was warped and couldn't attach to the computer. The second one seemed better, but it was inconvenient enough that I didn't use it much on what already felt like a large laptop. It answered a real problem I was having at the time, but the clip-on plastic shell just never quite matched the quality of the aluminum machine it was painted to look like, and now I have a new laptop. This speaks somewhat to why I'm suspicious of any project that is supposed to be a device for use with my phone - the odds of them delivering before a phone with a new form factor comes to market appear to be vanishingly small.
- QR Light - Okay, I look at a lot of flashlights on here, I guess. This one is great. One AAA-battery provides so much power that I've never run out (although in the past year I've swapped rechargeables twice as a precautionary measure). It has two brightness modes and is meant to go on a keychain - hence the "Quick Release" socket. I carry it almost every day. 👍
A lot of the gadgets were early projects in my backing history, and pretty discouraging at that. Successful projects rapidly outpace the expectations of creators who thought they were going to be making these devices in their garages. They usually don't have any experience with manufacturing, and they certainly don't have any experience with contracting Chinese corporations to do the work for them. A reliable and trustworthy broker for factories and manufacturing would probably really clean up in mentoring suddenly successful kickstarters the way sites like backer kit seem to be doing for fulfillment.
Alright, and here is, in my estimation, the worst deal available on the site, or at least the most one-sided. Movies take a long time to make, and they're so hard to get right. Plus, like the video games, if the movie gets made at all you can almost certainly get it for less later on. I suspect it's a good deal for the filmmakers if they happen to have the fan base ready and waiting to make it happen. For one thing, kickstarters are a great way to mark up your DVD. By a lot. Assuming of course that DVD even still exists by the time your movie is shot, edited, toured around to festivals, and then released to your backers.
- This is Not a Conspiracy Theory - By now I should have a word for 'I enjoyed this creator's previous work enough to support their future goals.' In this case, the previous work was Everything's a Remix. This documentary is being made as a web series, with parts gradually released as they are ready. Me, I'd rather just see the whole thing when it's done. So far, the first couple segments have been released, but the project is far from being completed.
- Out of Print - I'm a fan of the New Beverly, but it seems to me now that I overspent on this one. I assume I was making good money at some job at the time. The movie is produced, but this project has yet to be completed. UPDATE: Due to reasons, the movie itself has been made available online for free. I don't know what this will mean for fulfillment of the rest of the projects rewards, or if that matters.
Some projects defy polite categorization. Or I didn't file them correctly. They include:
- Notebooks on Cities & Culture: Seasons Two, Three, and Four - Although I've met the host of this show once, this is not a friendship-based backing. This is a backing based on my opinion that Colin Marshall is a fantastic interviewer, and that his show is something that should exist. As a listener, I am hopelessly behind. Each season of this show has delivered on time, and he is currently producing a fifth.
- Cthulhu Idol Narrative - This is a neat project. The creators main deal is sculpture, but the idol he is sculpting will be preceded by a series of letters from the fictional character who has "discovered" it. I couldn't justify springing for the full size idol, so my hope is that the small one will make an interesting first player marker in a board game. I just received my final package and I'm looking forward to reading it. 👍
- The Writhing Dark - This project is for decks of playing cards and tarot cards, which I don't care about it all. What caught my eye was the mention that they also wanted to print an anthology of weird fiction selected from submissions by their backers. I signed up so that I could have a shot at submitting, which would give me a reason and a deadline to try writing in a brand-new genre. Although my story was accepted, the project is wildly overdue, so by the time it arrives I worry I'll be more embarrassed than proud. It was neat to work with an actual literary editor though. That doesn't seem to ever happen in comedy.
- Flag - I guess it's silly to back an app that will eventually be free but I did a low-level pledge to get production updates, and I will theoretically be reimbursed with their premium services. If they actually launch this thing, I think I'm looking forward to using it.
- iOS 8 Developer Course in Swift - Software development is like my white whale. This seemed like an inexpensive way to try and get my feet wet, and once my current job ends I'm looking forward to playing around with this. Being more of a presale, this project delivered almost immediately.
And that's my backing history to date. I thought it would be fun to cover projects that I missed out on, and projects that failed to fund despite my support, but I think we'll save that for another time.
Time to tally up the scores! This week I mentioned 21 different projects. Of those, an astounding 14 of them have completed. And of those, I know approximately 4 of them to awesome.
Grand totals: 47 backed, 31 complete, and 11 certified rad. It doesn't sound encouraging. But are more than 1/3 of all products you buy via normal means amazing? I've probably bought plenty of underwhelming movies and books in stores too.
We've learned that the more realized a project is before it asks you for money, the more rad (re: thoughtful, prepared, cautious(?), fun, prompt, smooth) the project is likely to be. Maybe there are other useful guidelines to good backing that we can take from this aggregated look at projects. In the meantime, I'm holding out hope for a lot of 👍 signs from the 16 projects I'm waiting to receive.
Now I'm also interested in tabulating the average amount of time between backing and fulfillment, and how late the late projects tend to be. Maybe that stuff will make it into the 'missed-out' post.
He fell short of the backer goal that would have gotten me making a new Transit style cartoon about a math subject, but who knows? If and when I finish the next couple of those I have planned, a math story could happen anyhow...
We're tallying up my Kickstarter adventures. So far, I've backed 10 projects out of friendship or professional self-interest, and I've given 5 of them the 👍 seal of approval. Also, 8 of them actually delivered! In today's categories, I am backing as a pre-order. A down payment on stuff I want to get, own, have, and enjoy.
These categories here are responsible for my second era of kickstarting. After getting burned on some expensive and disappointing projects, I changed my habits to buying almost exclusively from proven professionals in their respective fields. I figured they would have a much better chance of actually knowing how to make their thing, and maybe that thing would be less likely to suck.
In almost every case below, I didn't end up liking the actual music that came from these Kickstarters as much as I liked the music they had already made, which was what convinced me to support their art in the first place. I have no regrets about choosing to help any of these people.
- Bess Rogers - This is a perfect example of the internet working. She made a fun promo video, which I saw, then I found some of her other albums on iTunes, and I liked them enough to want to help her make more. 👍
- An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer - I got a digital download of the multi-disc release, which I have not listened to. Since this was a $1 pledge, it used to be in the Price is Right category, but I was donating to get stuff, so now it's here.
- Nataly Dawn - Half of the delightful YouTube-born band Pomplamoose. I'm 90% sure I actually listened to the album when it was released.
- No School Today - a children's album from the bassist of They Might Be Giants.
This is actually two categories. Video games are a bad deal on Kickstarter. As a general rule, assuming the project doesn't fail, you're paying a premium as a backer. Especially if it's going to end up on Steam one day.
- Hadean Lands - this is a game of interactive fiction by a game designer I was previously aware of and whose work I enjoy, Andrew Plotkin. This was one of the first projects I ever backed, and it funded in December 2010. Despite regular monthly updates, it has yet to be completed.
- Zombies, Run! - A game that requires real-life running around with your phone to progress. Once they realized they couldn't actually deliver on their promises due to App Store limitations, they issued refunds. (So we could spend the money on them in the app store, was probably the theory.) 👎
- Double Fine Adventure - This project was huge. One of the first entries into crowdfunded gaming by a known developer, this project wasn't even for a specific game, just the idea that they'd come up with one, and make a documentary about how they did it. That game is Broken Age and it has been split into two pieces. The first half did a pretty good job of delivering on the flavor of the old-school point-and-click adventure they were promising. The second half has yet to be completed. I have not watched any of the documentary.
- FTL: Faster Than Light - this computer game "is a spaceship simulation roguelike-like. Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere of running a spaceship exploring the galaxy." And it does a great job. It's fun, and difficult, and delivered darn close to on time. 👍
- Shadowrun Returns - I loved Shadowrun as a kid. Particularly the games on the SNES and Genesis, so backing a new game was an easy sell. They delivered, and I have never made the time to play it. However, they seem to keep on releasing patches, overhauls, expansions, and now a forthcoming 'Director's Cut,' so I feel like I've made the right choice, because if I had played it immediately on release I probably would not have replayed again and again in each new form.
- LA Game Space - I live in LA. Why not a Game Space? The reward promised was 30 original indie games, and I have no idea if they delivered, or if they built a Game Space, or what happened with this one. Endless indie bundles have left me feeling somewhat dubious about the quality of 30 prototype games though. 👎 (What I should have backed was a GameHaüs!)
- Energy Hook - I will play any Spider-Man game. Even the Atari 2600 Spider-Man game is fun, because all I want in any Spider-Man game is to web swing around the city. And here's the guy who made the best web swinging system, making a game where the only thing that happens is you swing around, except with energy instead of copyrighted webs. Unfortunately, the game has yet to be completed because the developer decided to make another game instead. 👎 (But hopefully 👍 once I can actually play it. (Until then, Floating Point is a free game with almost nothing going on but swingin' around some blocks.))
I don't think I'm likely to back another video game project. I think Kickstarter shines as venue for creators who have created something, but need a financial push to make the leap from bits to atoms. It's awesome that everyone supported the very idea of Tim Schafer (and Zarf) making a new adventure game, and that seems to be turning out well, but backing digital goods that haven't progressed past the idea stage feels substantially riskier – and more importantly, less fun.
Board games, on the other hand, are expensive to physically produce and ship, and might be a pretty good value in pre-release.
- Super Showdown! - I don't know what possessed me to back this game. The good news is that when it arrived, they accidentally sent me two copies. The bad news is that it isn't all that much fun.
- Z-Ward: A Parsely Game - I really like this project. A Parsely game is an interactive fiction game, or text adventure, but instead of being played with a computer one player acts as the interpreter, following the printed materials with regard to the map, items, actions, etc. I got their whole collection, and my dream for these is to play them with a crowd before or during a comedy show, but I haven't really gotten to play them at all yet, and I don't want to read ahead and ruin them! Still, they seem awesome. 👍
- Call of Cthulhu: 7th Edition - This is the project that sucked me in the most. It makes up almost a third of all my kickstarter spending. As their campaign revealed stretch goal after stretch goal featuring new books and items, and even let me buy the adventure from the previous year's kickstarter campaign that I missed out on, the Horror on the Orient Express at half of list price, I kept on bumping up my pledge. The crate of stuff from this project, when it finally arrives, promises to be immense. Of course, all those new books and things now have to be written, so the project has yet to be completed. The hope is that it won't be much more than 1 year late.
- Chaosmos - This is a board game closely inspired by a book I found in the school library in 7th grade, Interstellar Pig. When I bought my first hobby board game, Cosmic Encounter, it was because I thought it would be this game. Aliens are chasing after an artifact, hiding it from one another, and each alien race has a rule-breaking power. I got to playtest this game once, and had a nice time, but the project has yet to be completed.
That's another 16 projects. Of those, only 9 are complete, and of those, only 3 got a 👍.
Total score to date: 26 projects. 17 completed, 8 that I'm glad I backed.
Next week we'll actually get to some of those disappointing tech projects, a category that's an even worse deal than video games, and maybe a list of projects I backed that didn't fund.